Chapter 5 continued
Verse 17: Do not think that I am come to destroy (Gr., to dissolve, abolish) the law, or the prophets. Christ's special meaning in this place is that He came to fulfil the moral precepts of the Law by teaching and expounding them more perfectly, and by substituting the sanction of eternal for temporal rewards and punishments, and by adding to things of precept evangelical counsels of perfection, as will be plain from what follows. It is also meant that Christ supplied the imperfection of the Law of Moses by justifying us through faith and the sacraments of the New Law, which He instituted, which the Law of Moses could not do.
Verse 18: For amen I say, +. Gr. Amen i.e., "in truth;" As S. Jerome says, "Amen is the word
not of one who swears, but of one who affirms something he is about to say, or confirms
something which he has said. In the former case it is prefixed, in the latter it is affixed, as it
were a seal." This may be seen from Deut. 27:26+, and 1 Cor. 14:16.
Moreover, Christ Himself is called Amen, Apoc. 3:14: "These things saith the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness."
(The phrase, "Amen, amen" appears only in John's Gospel)
One jot. Christ, speaking to Hebrews, said, one yod, as the Syriac has. For the Greek translator substituted the equivalent, iota. Yod in Hebrew, like iota in Greek and i in Latin, is the smallest letter in the alphabet. From the letter yod, meaning the least.
This does not mean, that all the commandments of the Law are very small; but that he should be condemned who should break one of even its smallest precepts, or, like the Pharisees, pervert them by a false interpretation, as by teaching, for example, that only outward adultery, not inward concupiscence, was forbidden by the Law, such as to look upon a woman to lust after her, which the Pharisees considered a very small thing, and scarcely a sin at all.
Till all be fulfilled. All things, that is, which have been spoken concerning Me and My acts, My Church and Sacraments in the Law and the Prophets. Again, all things mean all which have been commanded, or promised, or threatened.
Verse 19: Least in the kingdom of heaven. S. Chrysostom interpret least to mean not at all, because in heaven there are none who are not great, as S. Augustine says, "all kings of heaven, sons of God."
Verse 21: You have heard that it was said, Christ here begins to show in detail that He was not dissolving the Law, but fulfilling it, and that Christian righteousness ought to excel Judaic and Pharisaic righteousness. The Scribes and Pharisees, who by their teachings or traditions, perversely interpreted the Law, as is plain from verses 20 (your justice must exceed the Scribes & Pharisees) and 43 (taught to hate their enemy), and the Law of Moses.
Shall be in danger of the judgment. Here the human tribunal is meant, where men were condemned to death for murder. It is different from the judgment mentioned in the next verse.
Verse 22: The Law of Moses was given to the comparatively uninstructed Jews, and this Law
Christ perfected by His Evangelical Law. Many thought that by this law murder only was
forbidden, but Christ here teaches that by it even all angry words, blows, reproaches, are
forbidden, because such things can and sometimes do lead to murder.
I say to you. I decree, assert, and sanction, I who am Legislator of all law, Evangelical, Mosaic, and natural.
Whosoever is angry. The Greek adds rashly, without cause. But the Roman Codices, Sts. Jerome, and Augustine omit it. But those or similar words must be understood. For unlawful anger is what is here treated of; since anger for a just cause, as for example against sin and sinners, is both lawful and praiseworthy. Anger has been for this very purpose implanted in man's nature, that it should make them brave against vice, and against those things which are really their enemies.
Here is understood the Divine Judgment, which judges and condemns venial anger to temporal punishment, such as purgatory, but deadly anger to eternal punishment, i.e., to hell.
Raca: Sts. Augustine, Rupert, Anselm, and others think raca is an interjection of despising and opposing, and that by is meant all the feelings of an evil-disposed mind, whether murmuring, shouting, or spitting, or wrinkling the brow, and so on. It is not necessarily a word of any specific meaning, but a sound expressing the passion of the mind, such as the cry of pain.
St. Augustine: There are three dispositions: 1.) anger, 2.) the voice expressive of anger, 3.) and a word of reproach, You fool. Thus here are three different degrees of sin;
1.) in the first when one is angry, but keeps the passion in his heart without giving any sign of it.
2.) Any sound expressive of the anger escapes him, is more of a sin than his silent suppression of the anger;
3.) and if he speaks a word which conveys a direct reproach, it is a greater sin.
The Hebrews had 3 courts: The first - din mammona, which was a court for the trial of money causes; it was presided over by three judges. The second court was din mishpat, or the Court of Judgment, i.e., for capital offences. Here, cases of murder were examined and decided. This court consisted of twenty- three judges. The third was the Sanhedrin, which consisted of seventy-two judges, where crimes such as heresy, false prophets, idolatry, apostacy, were tried. Christ alludes to the two latter tribunals:
(ver. 22) angry with his
brother, danger of
the judgment - the Court of Judgment, and
. . . in danger of the council, is the Sanhedrin, the council.
The meaning is, that the proportion between anger and a reproachful word, and between the punishment of both, was the same as between the judgment of Mishpat and the Sanhedrin, or the highest tribunal. From this explanation it appears that there are degrees of faults and punishments, that some sins are worse than others, and so deserve a more severe punishment from God. Therefore there are sins which is venial, and sins which are mortal. Consequently, there is clearly a distinction between hell and purgatory.
Under this word fool, we are to understand all kinds of reproaches or curses which are mortal sins, which are said to dishonour our neighbour, or if the desire to do him injury comes from the heart. However, if you say it in joke, or not really to dishonour, but to correct, it is not deadly sin. Hence parents may severely correct their children, if it be done with moderation, and in justice, as Christ calls Peter "Satan" (Matt. 16:23), and Paul calls the Galatians "foolish" (Gal. 3:1).
Chrysostom: This is the first mention of hell, though the kingdom of Heaven had been mentioned some time before, which shows that the gifts of the one comes of His love, the condemnation of the other of our sloth.
Gehenna was the valley of Ennom, southwest of Jerusalem, where the idol Moloch was worshipped (Jeremiah 7:31). Parents burned their children in sacrifice to Moloch; and they beat drums so their cries and wails would not be heard, so the same place was called Tophet, i.e., "a drum." Christ here speaks of the Gehenna of fire, to show that nothing but fire, and that eternal fire, is meant. In Isaias 30:33 Gehenna and its torments are graphically depicted. Josias defiled it to prevent the idolatry (4 Kings 23:10, 2 Chronicles 34:4). In the New Testament the word is used to mean hell, and so is translated (Matt. 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:42-46; Luke 12:5; James 3:6)
Jesus begins His teaching in a particularly positive or hopeful manner: First, what we must do to obtain the Kingdom of heaven (the beatitudes), followed by, we are the salt of the earth, we are the light of the world. Now, however, He must also warn us of what will happen if we don't follow His teachings.
Verse 23-24: The Scribes taught that all sins, and especially violations of the Sixth Commandment, were expiated by sacrifices and offerings at the altar of God, even when no satisfaction was made for a wrong done to one's neighbour. But Christ teaches the contrary, and sanctions the law of justice and charity, by which He bids that satisfaction must first be made to our neighbour who has been injured by us either in word or deed.
Since the Holy Eucharist is a much greater sacrifice, as well as a Sacrament and profession of mutual love and peace, it is necessary that all discord should be done away with, and all should be reconciled before Holy Communion, otherwise we would be a liar who takes the Sacrament of Holy Communion and not be in union with our neighbour.
Verse 25: The adversary is not the devil, of course, but as Sts. Jerome, Hilary, and Ambrose state, anyone who has been unjustly offended, or injured by us, and is therefore in a position to be able to accuse us before God. With such a one Christ in the preceding verse bade us be reconciled.
Verse 26: till you repay the last farthing. That prison is hell, or purgatory, according to the greater or less heinousness of thy sin. The word until, seems to bear a reference to purgatory, as though it signified terminable punishment, which is purgatory, whereas the punishment of hell has no end.
Verse 27-28: Because by adultery he has already corrupted
her in his mind,
before God, who beholds the heart, he is an adulterer, and as an adulterer
he will be punished
Christ passes from anger to concupiscence, because these two passions have the greatest influence over men. And as He explained the commandment, Thou shall not kill, to forbid anger, so He here explains Thou shalt not commit adultery to forbid concupiscence. Many of the Scribes and Pharisees greatly erred in their exposition of this precept, as well as of the former. For although they knew that it was commanded by the tenth Commandment, Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nevertheless they erred - because they understood it not altogether internal, but such external actions, according to the maxim, "The law prohibits the hand, not the mind." This is true of civil and state law, which only punishes external wrongdoing, but not of the law of God, which weighs and corrects the inmost thoughts of the heart.
Verse 29-30: Christ signifies that everything which entices us to
sin must be cast away,
however dear, precious, and necessary it may be to us. He makes mention of
the eye first,
because he had just said, Whoso looks upon a woman.
As those who are sick and injured take care that a surgeon should amputate or remove the member that imperils the safety of the whole body; so, also we should endure any loss whatsoever, rather than commit a sin, especially a deadly sin; that, whatever is a stumbling block to you and draws you to sin, although it be as dear and necessary to you as your right eye, you should altogether pluck it out and cast it from you, at whatever cost.
Verse 31-32: Deut. 24:1, "When a man, after a marrying
a woman and having relations with
her, is later displeased with her because he finds in her something indecent,
and therefore he writes out a bill of divorce and hands it to her, thus
dismissing her from
The Law conceded to the husband alone the power of giving a writing of divorcement. But Christ, with respect to this matrimonial right places the man and the woman upon a perfect equality, as S. Paul teaches, 1 Cor. 7:4, "The wife has not power over her own body, but the husband. And in like manner the husband also has not power of his own body, but the wife."
Verse 33-37: Jesus has taught to abstain from injuring
our neighbor, forbidding
anger with murder, lust with adultery, and the putting away a wife with a
bill of divorce. He now proceeds to teach to abstain from injury to God,
forbidding not only perjury as an evil in itself but even all oaths as the
cause of evil, saying, You shall not forswear yourself in
My name (Lev 19:12); and that they should not make gods of the creature,
they are commanded to render to God their oaths, and not to swear by any
Render to the Lord your oaths; that is, if you shall have occasion to swear,
you shall swear by the Creator
and not by the creature. As it is written in Deuteronomy, You shall fear
the Lord your God,
and shall swear by His name (Deut 6:13).
JEROME; This was allowed under the Law, as to children; as they offered sacrifice to God, that they might not do it to idols, so they were permitted to swear by God; not that the thing was right, but that it were better done to God than to demons.
But, doesn't the Apostle Paul break this commandment when he says several times to the Galatians, The things which I write to you, behold, before God, I lie not (Gal 1:20). And to the Romans, God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit (Rom 1:9).
St. Paul has used oaths in his Epistles, and by this shows how they ought to be taken, I say to you, Swear not at all, namely, lest by allowing ourselves to swear at all we come to
1.) readiness in swearing, from readiness we come to
2.) a habit of swearing, and from a habit of swearing
3.) we fall into perjury.
St. Paul also used an oath in writing, which takes greater thought and caution than a slip of the tongue.
Having forbidden swearing, He instructs us how we ought to speak: St. HILARY; They who live in the simplicity of the faith have not need to swear - with them always, what is, simply is; and what is not, simply is not; by this their life and their conversation are ever preserved in truth.
Verse 38-42: eye for an eye - Exodus 21:24. This was the law of retaliation.
(ver. 39) resist not evil - That is, an evil or unjust thing, or an injury done to you by a wicked man. That is, do not requite evil for evil, injury for i
njury. This law of Christ does not take away from private individuals the reparation of offended justice and for the correction of the guilty person who has offended; much less does not take away the right of defending ourselves when we are attacked by an enemy, but only forbids the desire of vengeance.
John 18:23 - Jesus is struck by one of the servants of Annas and asks, "If I have spoken evil, give testimony of the evil, but if well, why do you strike me?"
(verse 41) Whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him two, that they are, speaking generally, matters of counsel, not of direct precept; but if the salvation of our neighbour and the glory of God require them to be done, then they are of precept. For instance, if the Indians or the Japanese knew that Christ has commanded Christians to turn the other cheek to him who smote them upon one cheek, and unless they did so those heathens would be scandalized and turned away from embracing the faith of Christ, then I say that it would be the duty of any Christian, but especially of a preacher, to turn the other cheek to him who smote him upon one. There is a literal example of this in the life of S. Francis Xavier, the Apostle of India and Japan. When the Japanese were laughing at him as a foreigner, and at his new doctrine concerning Christ crucified, it happened that a certain Japanese, hearing John Fernandez, a companion of Xavier, preaching in the street, out of petulance spat in his face. Fernandez, in no way disturbed, quietly wiped away the spittle, and proceeded with his discourse. The Japanese were so filled with admiration at his patience and struck with the wisdom of the new preachers, that they gave themselves to them as disciples, and in great numbers embraced the faith of Christ.
A monk who was slapped on one cheek by a girl, offered her the other; and by this drove out the devil. "When the monk entered into the house, there came the girl who was possessed by the devil, and gave the monk a slap in the face, but he, according to the Divine precept, offered her his other cheek to slap. The devil, being constrained, began to cry out, 'O! The power of the precepts of Jesus Christ drives me from here.' And immediately the girl was cleansed. When the monk came to some old men, he told them what had been done, and they glorified God, saying, 'It is the habit of diabolical pride to fall before the lowliness of the commands of Jesus.'"
Verse 43-48: "Thou shalt hate your enemy" Deut. 25:19, "Thou shalt blot out his name from under heaven." God had commanded Joshua and the Hebrews utterly to destroy the impious Canaanites, and to seize their land. But the Law bade only the Canaanites to be slain, not other nations, and even them, not out of hatred: just as a judge might order a guilty person to be put to death, not because he hated him, but for the safety of the rest of the population.